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The Tufted Counterpane

( Originally Published 1914 )

The tufted counterpane of today like most modern handicraft is a Colonial survival and has a historical as well as an artistic interest.

Some fine examples are to be found in the National Museum at Mt. Vernon, Virginia, which was formerly the home of George and Martha Washington. There the counterpanes still cover stately four posters in the bed-chambers. They are in perfect condition and a good recommendation of the methods and skill of the earlier worker.

As these counterpanes make charming coverings for wooden bedsteads it is astonishing they are not more widely known. They are some-times made of dimity but the most attractive are made of unbleached cotton cloth because of the delightful contrast between the ivory tone of the cloth and of the pure white thread used in the tufts.


For a full width counterpane, two and three-quarters yards of muslin is needed, two and one-half yards wide. The muslin may be either bleached or unbleached. If the bleached is used the linen finished muslin is the most satisfactory.

Take pure white knitting cotton, Dexter's No. 6 for making the tufts. The pattern in the illustration requires two dozen balls. Use No. 1 darning needle. Besides these materials get a bottle of liquid bluing, two yards of heavy stencil paper, a small quantity of laundry starch, a small stiff paint brush and a harness punch.


In Colonial days the method used for marking straight lines on the tufted counterpanes was known as "snapping a string." Two people did the marking with a piece of string, wet with colored starch or rubbed with colored chalk. Each held an end in position over the muslin just above where the line was to go. Stretching the string very taut and letting go of it, simultaneously, snapped it against the muslin, marking a line of any desired length.

For circles of different sizes, lines were drawn around the edges of plates, saucers and goblets. By these simple means a geometric style of pattern was produced, which could be carried out appropriately through the medium of the tufts, these being placed at stated intervals along the lines.

Sometimes more elaborate figures like the old-fashioned palm leaf were used. These were cut out of thick cardboard and the outline drawn around them on the muslin with colored chalk.

But while these methods are interesting the stencil is a more up-to-date and practical means of marking counterpanes. A section of the de-sign, usually one-fourth, is drawn on the stencil paper, and holes placed at stated intervals, either one inch or one-half inch apart are punched out with the harness punch. When the stenciling is finished the dotted pat-tern appears on the muslin. The dots indicate the position of the tufts to be carried out with thread on the counterpane.

Rub the stencil paper with boiled linseed oil before punching out the pattern. This makes a cleaner edge and preserves the paper against the wet starch when it is rubbed over it.

For stenciling the pattern on the counterpane mix raw starch with the liquid bluing. Do not have the paste too wet, it rubs through the holes in the stencil quite easily.


The muslin for the counterpane has already been hemmed and tautly stretched in a quilting frame for the marking. The hems should be either rolled or a narrow napkin hem be used. If a quilting frame cannot be found a curtain frame will answer the purpose. Never wash the muslin until after the counterpane is tufted, for the tufts of cotton are held in place by the shrinkage of the cloth. This is the same method used in the hooked rug where the cloth strips are crowded in between the meshes of the burlap foundation and also held in place by the pressure of the surrounding cloth.

Two sized tufts are used for ornamenting the counterpanes. A full-sized tuft made of twenty-four threads each, and a half-sized tuft of half that number. The full-sized tufts are placed one inch apart, the half-sized, one-half inch.

Fill a darning needle with a double thread and make a stitch one-eighth inch long under any of the stenciled dots of the pattern.

Draw up the thread at each end of the stitch on the surface of the counterpane. Crowd three stitches into the same needle holes. Each stitch has two ends and these ends should measure three-fourths inch in height. Three stitches make two tufts of thread of six threads each. Do not cut the thread, use a continuous thread making loops except at the beginning and end of each group of threads. Now cross these stitches at right angles with three other stitches of the same length and size and a tuft of twenty-four threads will be formed. Do not cut the loops of thread in the tufts until all the tufts are finished. Then trim them down to one-half inch in height.

After the counterpane is tufted, shrink it by washing it in very hot water. Do not press it with an iron, hang it out to dry stretching it and pulling it into shape before it is absolutely dry. Do not comb out the threads in the tufts. They will fringe out through washing and usage.


The tufted counterpanes are usually finished, like the one in the illustration, with fringe on three sides.

It is made of buttonhole stitches and the same kind of cotton is used as for making the tufts. The first row of stitches is caught along the edge of the counterpane at the hem, and they are set one inch apart. The stitches should not be drawn up tightly, as they are to form a series of loops into which the next row is to be caught. There are three rows in all, the second row is caught into the center of the loops of the first row and the third row into the center of the loops of the second.

The fringe is ornamented with French knots at the point where one loop is caught into the other, and it is finished with small tassels.

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